With eight races down and seven to go, the 2019 Castrol Toyota Racing Series has created an intense rivalry.
It’s a rivalry that is pitching two Kiwis - the more experienced Marcus Armstrong and the sixteen year old fearless young gun Liam Lawson – in an intense and exciting battle that has left some of the world’s top up and coming single seater drivers playing catch up.
There was plenty of drama in the North Waikato over the weekend but through it all the polished and mature performance of Marcus Armstrong stood out, and it was that which rewarded the New Zealander with the round win, the championship lead and one of the most coveted trophies in New Zealand motorsport, the New Zealand Motor Cup.
Lawson still outscored his rival in the first encounter of the weekend after he crashed into a hesitant Cameron Das on a restart. Armstrong copped a time penalty for a yellow flag infringement and that gave Lawson a small advantage. He increased this with his superb Saturday afternoon victory but Armstrong fought back with two wins on Sunday including the Motor Cup. Lawson was in the hunt but suffered his second shunt of the weekend when Lucas Auer pushed him off at the first turn, a move for which the Austrian received a post-race penalty
Heading to Taupo this weekend the nature of the track changes again. Spectacularly set in the shadow of a volcano and only a few kilometres from the great lake itself, the Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park was designed and created for use by powerful, fast single seaters and will be well suited to the strengths of the Toyota FT-50 chassis. It's a technical track too and notoriously hard on the tyres.
After his win in the Motor Cup and Liam Lawson's unfortunate retirement, Armstrong sits on 203 points in the championship table, 34 ahead of his sixteen year old rival. That’s handy, but far from comfortable. The championship lead swung one way then the other over the Hampton Downs weekend and one bad race can still make all the difference with four races to complete at Taupo, and a further three including the 64th New Zealand Grand Prix on the schedule for Manfeild a week later.
Raoul Hyman was justifiably disappointed to lose a strong finishing position in the Motor Cup race, coming off worse after some attention from the Czech Republic’s Petr Ptacek. The United Kingdom racer has been strong everywhere and is the top non-Kiwi in the points chase, 28 points down on Lawson and 62 down on Armstrong. It’s not over until it’s over of course and there is still time for Raoul to come through, but he needs luck to swing his way a little more than it did at Hampton Downs in the final two rounds.
Brendon Leitch is another with great pace but needs to string together some consistent race performances. Fourth in the Motor Cup was excellent, but he will be conscious of a few wild rides over the dirt last weekend in the earlier races which didn't help the cause. After a disastrous Friday night race, United States racer Cameron Das came good over the rest of the Hampton Downs weekend, learning from the experience and getting himself on the podium in the Motor Cup. With Taupo experience behind him from last season, it's quite possible he could be a major factor this coming weekend.
Artem Petrov had a weekend of contrasts at Hampton Downs, winning Friday's chaotic race but would have hoped for more than a fifth, a seventh and a DNF from the weekend's remaining races. With plenty of speed, four decent results at Taupo could also propel him towards the sharp end of the championship table too.
Lucas Auer will be another hoping for a clean weekend when he can match undoubted pace with strong finishes and points scoring results.
Esteban Muth, Kazuto Kotaka and Calan Williams will be looking to convert their strong midfield form into potential podiums and race wins.
All of the rest of the runners have had their moments so far in the championship and will be looking to build on that as the series heads to Taupo, and perhaps of those in the second half of the table, the one to watch could well be Jackson Walls. He turned 16 just before Round 2 so is a weekend behind in race experience in the series, but bagged a fifth place at Hampton Downs and is more than happy to take on the big guns. With quite a few passing opportunities offered by the Taupo track, he'll be a good outside bet for some solid race results.
2019 Castrol Toyota Racing Series – Championship Points
1. Marcus Armstrong 203
2. Liam Lawson 169
3. Raoul Hyman 141
4. Brendon Leitch 125
5. Cameron Das 123
6. Lucas Auer 119
7. Artem Petrov 119
8. Esteban Muth 118
9. Kazuto Kotaka 97
10. Calan Williams 95
11. Petr Ptacek 89
12. Dev Gore 65
13. Thomas Smith 58
14. Jackson Walls 54
15. Parker Locke 53
16. Petru Florescu 48